My comfort reading is romances and children’s literature from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. What I find comforting is that it describes a world I can recognise, whereas the world outside my door feels oftentimes too jarring to be borne. What’s disorienting about it is what’s sprouted and what has been lost. Today I read a novel written by Pamela Whitlock (15) and Katharine Hull (16) and which they sent, with temerity, to Arthur Ransome as he was their favourite author. Ransome fell in love and persuaded Jonathan Cape to publish it. Like most English children’s stories of the time – this one published 1937 – it is the story of wealthy, bored white children on holidays who seek adventure. The world they move in, on ponies and by bicycle, on foot and occasionally by boat, rises off the page crackling and ripe. There is more life in the world then than there is now. “As she dashed through the heather, furry-tailed rabbits scuttled from their earthworks and green lizards slunk from beneath rocks and slid into patches of sparse grass. Kestrels and hawks winged ceaselessly to and fro in the vast sky. Jennifer ran on and reached a pile of boulders. (…) Where was the herd of wild ponies?”
I don’t know how to put out my hand to the world I so loved and which seems to be slipping, unadvertised and increasingly silent, into liquid and so down the drain. On the way to the grocery store and back I pass people sitting staring into their phones. That lost world must be somehow captured in there, or seem to be, as the wild ocean can seem to be present in large round windows in a rich man’s office wall. Not perhaps its shimmering life and deep sweet sweating intensity, but merely its unpredictable sameness, its free-running ever-altered landscape, its uncontainable never to be urbanised tribal sense of joy and discovery. I miss that and I want to find it outside my computer screen, a porthole on a world now merely mythical.